United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
MIRANDO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the Court upon review of the Amended
Joint Motion for Approval of FLSA Settlement (Doc. 47) filed
on March 4, 2018. On February 14, 2018, the parties moved for
the Court to approve the parties' settlement of the Fair
Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claims. Doc. 41. The
Court denied without prejudice the parties' motion
because the agreement contained Plaintiff's general
release of claims, a non-disparagement clause and a no
re-employment clause. Doc. 42. The parties again request that
the Court approve the parties' settlement of the FLSA
claims and dismiss the case with prejudice after amending
their settlement agreement consistent with the prior Order.
Doc. 47. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court
recommends that the settlement be APPROVED
and Plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice.
approve the settlement, the Court must determine whether it
is a “fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide
dispute” of the claims raised pursuant to the FLSA.
Lynn's Food Store, Inc. v. United States, 679
F.2d 1350, 1355 (11th Cir. 1982). There are two ways for a
claim under the FLSA to be settled or compromised.
Id. at 1352-53. The first is under 29 U.S.C. §
216(c), providing for the Secretary of Labor to supervise the
payments of unpaid wages owed to employees. Id. at
1353. The second is under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) when an
action is brought by employees against their employer to
recover back wages. Id. When the employees file
suit, the proposed settlement must be presented to the
district court for the district court to review and determine
that the settlement is fair and reasonable. Id. at
Eleventh Circuit has found settlements to be permissible when
the lawsuit is brought by employees under the FLSA for back
wages because the lawsuit provides
some assurance of an adversarial context. The employees are
likely to be represented by an attorney who can protect their
rights under the statute. Thus, when the parties submit a
settlement to the court for approval, the settlement is more
likely to reflect a reasonable compromise of disputed issues
than a mere waiver of statutory rights brought about by an
employer's overreaching. If a settlement in an employee
FLSA suit does reflect a reasonable compromise over issues,
such as FLSA coverage or computation of back wages that are
actually in dispute; we allow the district court to approve
the settlement in order to promote the policy of encouraging
settlement of litigation.
Id. at 1354. “Short of a bench trial, the
Court is generally not in as good a position as the parties
to determine the reasonableness of an FLSA settlement. . . .
If the parties are represented by competent counsel in an
adversary context, the settlement they reach will, almost by
definition, be reasonable.” Bonetti v. Embarq Mgmt.
Co., 715 F.Supp.2d 1222, 1227 (M.D. Fla. 2009).
Nevertheless, the Court must scrutinize the settlement to
determine whether it is a “fair and reasonable
resolution of a bona fide dispute.” Lynn's Food
Store, Inc., 679 F.2d at 1355.
Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking recovery of overtime
compensation under the FLSA against Defendants Pystmo, LLC
d/b/a Edible Arrangements (“Pystmo”) and Mark
Taylor. Doc. 1. Pystmo is a Florida limited liability
company. Id. ¶ 2. Taylor owned, managed and
operated Pystmo and regularly exercised the authority to hire
and fire employees of the company and determine the
employees' work schedules. Id. ¶ 5.
Plaintiff claims that during the term of her employment, she
was not paid any overtime premium for all hours worked in
excess of forty (40) hours within a workweek. Id.
proposed settlement agreement, Defendants agree to pay
Plaintiff a settlement amount totaling $6, 400.00 in
consideration for her underlying claims for overtime wages
and damages. Doc. 47-1 ¶ 1. The parties state each party
was represented by counsel experienced in litigating claims
under the FLSA. Doc. 47 at 4. The parties further state if
they continue to litigate this matter, they would face
litigation costs exceeding the amount of damages claimed here
and the uncertainty of an outcome. Id. Thus, they
seek to minimize risks and litigation costs by entering into
the agreement. Id. The parties also represent they
have engaged in written discovery, exchanged sufficient
information and conducted an adequate investigation to make
an educated and informed analysis of the claims here.
Id. Given the parties' likelihood of success on
the merits and the uncertain range of possible recovery, the
parties state their agreement is fair and reasonable.
Id. at 4-5.
on the parties' representations and the policy in this
circuit of promoting settlement of litigation, the Court
recommends the monetary terms of the proposed settlement to
be a fair and reasonable compromise of the dispute. Other
courts in this district similarly have approved settlements
for a compromised amount in light of the strength of the
defenses, the complexity of the case, and the expense and
length of continued litigation. See e.g., Diaz
v. Mattress One, Inc., No. 6:10-CV-1302-ORL-22, 2011 WL
3167248, at *2 (M.D. Fla. July 15, 2011), report and
recommendation adopted, 2011 WL 3166211 (M.D. Fla. July 27,
2011); see also Dorismond v. Wyndham Vacation Ownership,
Inc., No. 6:14-cv-63-Orl-28GJK, 2014 WL 2861483 (M.D.
Fla. June 24, 2014); Helms v. Ctr. Fla. Reg'l
Hosp., No. 6:05-cv-383-Orl-22JGG, 2006 WL 3858491 (M.D.
Fla. Dec. 26, 2006).
Court notes the proposed settlement agreement contains a full
general release of all claims by Plaintiff and a
non-disparagement clause. Doc. 47-1 at 3-5. As noted in the
prior Order, this Court as well as other courts within this
district have approved general releases in FLSA cases when
the plaintiff receives compensation that is separate and
apart from the benefits to which plaintiff is entitled under
the FLSA. Doc. 42 at 2-4. Davis v. JP Sports Colectibles
Inc., No. 2:16-cv-154-FtM-CM, 2016 WL 7474571, at *2
(M.D. Fla. Dec. 29, 2016) (approving the settlement agreement
with mutual general releases because the plaintiffs received
independent consideration for their individual general
releases); Weldon v. Backwoods Steakhouse, Inc.,
6:14-cv-79-Orl-37TBS, 2014 WL 4385593, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Sept.
4, 2014); Buntin v. Square Foot Management Company,
LLC, 6:14-cv- 1394-Orl-37GJK, 2015 WL 3407866, at *2
(M.D. Fla. May 27, 2015); Raynon v. RHA/Fern Park MR.,
Inc., 6:14-cv-1112-Orl-37TBS, 2014 WL 5454395, at *3
(M.D. Fla. Oct. 27, 2014).
Weldon, the court approved a settlement agreement
that contained a general release and non-disparagement
agreement because they were supported by independent
consideration, in addition to the sum the plaintiff would
receive from the FLSA settlement. Weldon, 2014 WL
4385593, at *4. In Buntin, the court approved a
settlement agreement that contained a general release because
it was supported by independent consideration apart from that
owed to him under the FLSA, specifically a mutual general
release and a specific neutral reference by defendant.
Buntin, 2015 WL 3407866, at *3.
in its prior Order, the Court found problematic
Plaintiff's general release of claims and the
non-disparagement clause because the parties did not make
clear whether Defendants provided any independent
consideration for Plaintiff's general release of claims
or the non-disparagement clause. Doc. 42 at 4. The parties
addressed this concern by providing $100.00 as an independent
consideration to Plaintiff in exchange for her general
release of claims and the non-disparagement clause. Doc. 47-1
¶ 1(d). Thus, the Court recommends Plaintiff's
general release of claims and the non-disparagement clause do
not render the settlement agreement unfair. See
Weldon, 2014 WL 4385593, at *4.
Court also determined the parties' no re-employment
clause in their previous settlement agreement was
problematic. Doc. 42 at 5. The parties addressed this concern
by removing the clause. Doc. 47 at 3.
addition, the “FLSA requires judicial review of the
reasonableness of counsel's legal fees to assure both
that counsel is compensated adequately and that no conflict
of interest taints the amount the wronged employee recovers
under a settlement ...